Loose in Las Vegas: 2011
After two visits to Las Vegas in 2010, I had no intention of returning this year. In fact, my friend Danny and I had specifically scheduled a vacation to California for 2011 since neither of us has ever been to that state before. Unfortunately, business conflicts required that trip to be canceled so we decided a quick jaunt to Sin City was better than no vacation at all this year.
Having learned from our previous travels to Las Vegas, we booked a non-stop flight out of Orlando but had to leave at 7:30AM on the Friday we departed. It was a rushed trip to the airport that morning but the smooth plane ride and four and a half hour travel time clear across the country made up for it. We arrived in Las Vegas without incident, grabbed our rental car at the offsite facility and were at the condo we were staying at before noon Nevada time. The Wyndham Grand Desert Resort, located roughly behind the MGM Grand just off the Las Vegas Strip, is a beautiful condominium that we had stayed at last year and they were nice enough to let us check in four hours early. It was barely mid day in Vegas and we were already unpacked and ready to roll!
Anticipating jet lag and time zone shock from the plane ride, we decided to take it fairly easy on Friday. Danny and I were starving after the long journey so we hit the buffet at the Planet Hollywood casino for a late lunch / early dinner. After taking in some of the strip, we had tickets for the 7:30 show of Phantom of the Opera at the Venetian. I had never seen the musical version of this horror staple before and was very impressed with how much atmosphere they were able to create live on stage. The segments with characters supposedly traveling by boat through the sewers of Paris were very convincing and some of the special effects made me thankful I wasn’t any closer to the stage than I was. If you enjoy musicals, this one is certainly worth checking out.
It isn’t easy to plan any visit to a fun city like Las Vegas, especially a short trip like this five day one, without overloading yourself. Having friends there you want to see can make it even more challenging. I was very careful this year to leave most of my days open completely and schedule my evenings well in advance, so I could relax as much as possible. During the day Saturday I wandered around a few casinos with Danny and checked out what was new on the Strip. That evening, I met my friends Tricia and Graham Anderson for dinner at the Orleans casino which is a few miles off the strip and less pricey than some of the more tourist traveled spots. We ate dinner at an Asian restaurant there and then caught The Temptations in concert at the showroom. When I first saw the advertisement for this performance, I was shocked to see that Otis Williams, founder of the group, is still with us. All of the other original members are long gone and most left this world under tragic circumstances. Williams has a reputation for being able to find replacements that can recreate the group’s sound flawlessly and this line up did not disappoint. At the end of the concert, he mentioned that this month marked the 50th anniversary of the formation of this Motown super group and it’s nice to know their sound is still alive and well represented.
I had jokingly reserved Sunday for what I called “Ted Mikels’ Day” but I had no idea just how accurate that was going to be! Around 1PM, Ted’s friend Whitney Cross picked me up at the condo and chauffeured me to Ted’s house. I had barely traded greetings with the cult movie legend and his lady friend Shanti before he whisked me off to his garage to show me the latest treasures from cinema history that he had unearthed. The place was like Ali Baba’s cave with so much interesting stuff packed into such a small and poorly ventilated space that it was almost overwhelming! After at least a solid half hour of digging and discussing, I carted my loot back into the house and re-hydrated while we talked business. Following my acquisition of some props, promotional materials, and both 16MM and 35MM film, I was ready for the much anticipated main event.
When I had first informed Ted of my change in vacation plans this year, he told me he could not make any promises but that he might have his latest film, Astro-Zombies M4: Invaders from Cyberspace, in the rough cut stages by that point. As the time grew closer, this was became a reality and he offered to screen it for me during my visit. I was honored and couldn’t wait to see what he had up his cinematic sleeve this time and to see my turn in it as a victim of the synthetic psychos. Without giving away too much of the plot, I will say that M4 has a much more expansive feel to it than the previous entries thanks to filming that took place all over the globe. The new movie bares only a passing continuity with its predecessors and this time out the Astro-Zombies are much more evolved than fans have previously seen. In fact, there is an entire planet of the murderous monsters now and they have their sights set on conquering Earth and making it their new home. Needless to say, there is plenty of carry over of themes, actors, and locations from the last installment and any viewer overly familiar with that film may experience a slight twinge of déjà vu while watching this one.
After discussing the new film and Ted’s plans for continued editing – most of what is missing at this point is special effects footage and some additional second unit shots from overseas, we were all ready for dinner. Ted hasn’t failed me yet when recommending places to eat as he always seems to know which of the casinos have the best food for the best price. This time he recommended the Sunset Station which is a few miles outside the city but still convenient. The four of us enjoyed a very good meal with all sorts of treats and some great after dinner conversation. When I finally looked at my watch, I realized it was getting uncomfortably close to time for me to meet Danny at the Hilton for a 10PM show in their comedy club. I had literally spent all day and part of the night hanging out with Ted and friends and ended up arriving at the show just as the seating was starting. For the record, the comedians weren’t that good and I would have much rather had another hour of time with Ted!
Monday was my last full day in Vegas and I planned on hitting a few of my favorite spots for some shopping. I was slightly disappointed with the selection at the usually reliable Beatles store at the Mirage. It was obvious as soon as I walked inside that the inventory was only about a half to two thirds of what I had seen in the past and they had not added a lot of new items since my last visit. I purchased a couple of gifts and a Yellow Submarine tie for myself but this was a very light year here for me. While checking out, I asked the clerk why the inventory was down and she admitted to being new and unfamiliar with what it had been in prior years but she did say many people had asked her that same question recently.
If I could only visit one store on a trip to Las Vegas, I would pick Cinema Collectors without a moment’s hesitation. For some reason my schedule always seems to have my shopping time limited to a Sunday and/or Monday, the two days the store is closed, but owner and movie poster guru Buddy Barnet is always kind enough to open the place up for me. I have sent Buddy many want lists over the years but I usually find just as much, if not more, cool stuff just digging through what he has in the store. This year we discussed the sorry state of poster collecting due the economy while I sorted through three large boxes packed to the brims with posters, lobby cards, and all other manner of promotional materials. I also drooled over some beautiful choice one sheets for films like the original Thing, Night of the Blood Beast, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, and even the infamous Plan Nine from Outer Space. While they are only retailing now for about half of what they would have sold for a mere five years ago, they were still a little rich for my blood. I settled for a nice sized bag of assorted goodies including an awesome syndication press kit for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, some German Toho posters, a lobby card for the original Little Shop of Horrors, and a half sheet for The Illustrated Man. My find for this trip was a one sheet for Lon Chaney, Jr.’s final film appearance as a wolf man, Face of the Screaming Werewolf, which I had been trying to acquire for years.
Following my shopping excursion, I had just enough time to get back to the condo and get ready for the evening’s activities. The only thing nicer than having established friends in a strange city is making new ones and I had been looking forward to seeing Dyanne Thorne and her husband Howard Maurer ever since we met at the Cult Fiction Drive-In show in Jacksonville back in May. They were kind enough to pick me up for dinner that night with the intention of taking me to a Mexican restaurant at one of their favorite casinos. Unfortunately it was closed on Mondays so we had to switch gears quickly and head for the Italian bistro, Buca Di Beppo, nearby. Even though this is a chain with restaurants in Florida, I had never eaten there before. Both the food and the atmosphere were excellent and we had a great time catching up on goings on from the last couple of months. Dyanne even asked for an update on my “crew” from the Cult Fiction show and I filled her on what my friends were up to these days. Sadly I had to beg off early for the evening since my flight left at 8:30 the next morning and the Vegas airport is never easy to navigate, especially if a rental car return is involved.
Danny and I left in plenty of time to make the flight on Tuesday which is not always an easy thing to do in Vegas either, even if you are only a few miles to the airport. Thanks to a very realistic looking prop pistol I had purchased from Ted, I got to learn all about how to check a real gun in your baggage for air travel! Thankfully, the bureaucracy did not take too long and where I finally ended up for TSA was close to both the regular screening area and my departure gate. I rendezvoused with Danny and assured him I was not being considered a security threat just as the airline started boarding for our flight. It always seems like the trip back to Florida from Vegas is more crowded and longer than the one going out and having a bunch of small children on board doesn’t help. Fortunately I had fully charged my portable DVD player earlier in the week and spent most of the travel time blissfully enjoying my own in-flight movie. Even so, I was still glad when we hit the ground in Orlando!
As it stands right now, I do not have any plans to return to Vegas in 2012 and have every intention of trying to reinstate our aborted California adventure. If circumstances prevent this again though or something happens unexpectedly to make a visit to Sin City too attractive to pass up, it won’t be difficult to get me to change my mind. With so many good friends to visit and fun things to do, I could easily fill up a month in Las Vegas with activities no matter how often I go. A mere five day jaunt is barely even enough time to get started!